The Department of Homeland Security inadvertently alerted the Cuban government this month that some of the immigrants the agency intended to deport to the island nation had asked the US for protection from persecution or torture, officials said Monday.
Immigration and customs officials are now scrambling to rule out the possibility that the Cuban government could retaliate against those it knows have sought protection here. The agency has halted efforts to deport the immigrants concerned and is considering releasing them from US custody.
Accidental disclosure to the Cuban government is an example of every asylum-seeker’s “nightmare scenario,” said Robyn Barnard, deputy refugee director at Human Rights First.
Many immigrants seeking safety in the United States fear that gangs, governments, or individuals back home will find out they have done so and retaliate against them or their families. To mitigate this risk, a federal regulation generally prohibits the disclosure of personally identifiable information about individuals seeking asylum and other protection without the approval of senior Homeland Security officials.
“The words egregious and illegal don’t go far enough,” Barnard said. “And this is not just any foreign government, but a government that we have irrefutable evidence of that routinely arrests and tortures those they suspect of being against them.”
An even bigger breach of confidentiality last month led directly to the surprise disclosure to the Cuban government. Less than three weeks ago, immigration and customs officials inadvertently released the names, dates of birth, nationalities and places of detention of more than 6,000 immigrants who claimed to be fleeing torture and persecution on the agency’s website.
In early December, a Homeland Security official who communicated with the Cuban government about deportation flights into the country, which recently resumed after a hiatus, “inadvertently” indicated that some of the 103 Cubans who could have been put on a flight were from The Cuban government were affected by the late November data dump, an ICE official told The Times.
The Homeland Security official did not name any specific people. But telling Cuba that some of the potential deportees had been affected by the ICE leak was tantamount to confirming that they had sought US protection. Every person whose information was leaked had sought US protection and the leak was widely covered in the US media.
Of the 103 Cubans that Homeland Security discussed with the Cuban government, 46 were affected by the leak.
ICE is in the process of contacting the Cubans whose information has been disclosed and any attorneys they may have. The agency will not remove them from the US immediately and give them an opportunity to update their protection claims. ICE attorneys are also reviewing “what avenues are legally available to remedy the disclosure, including possible parole,” the official said.
Anwen Hughes, director of legal strategy at Human Rights First, has years of experience comforting asylum seekers concerned about their applications being known to their home countries.
“They come in nervous, shaking and afraid that their relatives might be arrested,” Hughes said.
Hughes has long told her clients to feel reassured that their information is protected.
But the recent revelations have given her food for thought.
“I don’t want to say anything that isn’t true,” she said. “It’s important that these assurances are meaningful.”
The disclosure of the 6,252 names by ICE in November had already triggered massive efforts by the agency get to the bottom of the error causes and Reducing the risk of retaliation against immigrants whose information has been disclosed.
ICE officials have started notifying immigrants whose information has been released online. The agency will not deport immigrants whose information it has erroneously released for at least 30 days so that immigrants determine whether disclosure is affecting their cases.
On Thursday, a group of several members of Congress, including MPs Norma Torres (D-Pomona) and Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-San Pedro), sent a letter to ICE leadership asking for answers on how the leak happened and how the agency responded.
“We believe that ICE’s failure to comply with simple rules designed to protect asylum seekers may have put the lives of these vulnerable individuals and their families at risk, and urge you to take immediate action to protect the confidentiality of this and other sensitive information.” agency.” the letter stated.
“We are deeply disturbed by this news because federal law requires that information provided by asylum seekers be kept confidential. Some of us receive frequent visits from individuals who are risking their lives and livelihoods to help their communities thrive in the face of oppressive regimes. Some of these brave individuals are seeking asylum in the United States — and putting their information in the hands of bad actors is unacceptable.”
The agency accidentally released the data during a routine update of its website on November 28. Human Rights First notified ICE officials of the error, and the agency quickly deleted the data from its website. The file was posted on a site where ICE regularly posts incarceration statistics.
The information was online for about five hours.
“Although unintentional, this release of information constitutes a violation of policy and the agency is investigating the incident and taking any necessary corrective action,” an ICE spokesman said in a statement.
https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-12-19/cuba-immigrants-deported-asylum-leak DHS accidentally informed Cuba that deportees had sought protection in U.S.